How Amy Canham (EE ’11) Spent Her Summer

in Students, Undergraduate Students
September 1st, 2010

Amy Canham (EE '11) poses in front of the Victoria Falls during her trip to Zambia.

Amy Canham (EE '11) poses in front of the Victoria Falls during her trip to Zambia.

As Boston University senior Amy Canham observed a delivery room in a Zambia hospital health facility over the summer, she was shocked to learn that women had given birth on bed sheets stained by the blood of other patients.

“It was eye-opening,” said Canham.

Based on her experience, one might assume that Canham, who is very mature for her undergraduate status, is a med student or candidate for her MPH like several other BU students in Zambia.

Actually, she studies Electrical Engineering and chose to spend her summer in Zambia to research firsthand what medical technologies are appropriate for developing countries.

As part of her experience, Amy, who is a member of The Zaman Lab, worked closely with the Boston University Center for Global Health and Development. The organization works, in part, to improve public health in Zambia.

Canham quickly noticed there was a need for better equipment, but the new devices needed to be designed with the users in mind. For example, if a heart monitoring machine broke down and the engineer behind it was back in the US, who would be able to fix it?

The above picture of an elephant was Canham's favorite photo from her trip.

This picture of an elephant was Canham's favorite photo from her trip.

“Ideally we should break away from this donor-recipient cycle,” said Canham. “The goal should be to enable hospital workers in developing countries to take hold of the technology which means developing equipment that’s appropriate for the environment.”

Canham’s trip was funded by a Lutchen Fellowship, which gives $10,000 to ten undergraduates in the College of Engineering to support summer research. Canham was one of the first ten recipients and was encouraged to apply by her advisor, Biomedical Engineering Professor Muhammad Zaman, who she worked closely with in Zambia and calls a “great mentor.”

“I wanted her to have that firsthand experience,” said Zaman. “She’s a remarkable student who always does beyond what you ask of her and really put the Fellowship to good use.”

This year, she plans to turn her experience into a senior design project. After studying the diagnosis and treatment of pneumonia in children less than five years old, she hopes to create a device or system that can have the greatest impact in a country like Zambia.

“Pneumonia kills more children under five than any other disease,” said Canham. “The treatment is straightforward if you know the pathogens causing it, but you need to take blood samples and get the results – and that isn’t always possible in a developing country.”

Canham will work with both Zaman and ECE Professor Selim Ünlü on the project.

“I was very impressed with Amy’s level of maturity and her genuine interest in using science and engineering for helping people in developing nations,” said Ünlü. “I am proud to have her as a student in our department. I have no doubt that she will become a leader.”

To learn more, visit 100×100, a blog Canham contributes to that shows what happens when engineers and health professionals team up to design medical technology for developing countries.

-Rachel Harrington (rachelah@bu.edu)